SAA Response to Hollins University Removal of Yearbooks

The Society of American Archivists is concerned about the recent decision by Hollins University President Pareena G. Lawrence to remove from the University’s institutional repository yearbooks containing offensive imagery of blackface.

President Lawrence wrote in an April 2 letter to the Hollins community that selected editions of The Spinster (Hollins’s yearbook) would be removed from the online institutional repository “in an effort to limit the damage and pain those depictions might cause in our community.” She noted that this removal is a temporary measure and that, “Digital access will be fully restored as we develop and post educational information regarding the history and practice of blackface to help all of us understand why it is a racist and prejudicial practice….” The letter states that online access will be restored “in the next few weeks.” No exact timeline for reinstatement is provided.

Archives serve as a source of accountability for individuals and institutions in positions of power. As noted in SAA’s Core Values Statement, “By documenting institutional functions, activities, and decision-making, archivists provide an important means of ensuring accountability.” Impeding access to archival materials that were produced by the institution and that serve to demonstrate the institution’s beliefs and norms at the time of production denies the ability to hold the institution accountable for these actions and choices.

The SAA Code of Ethics states that, “Archivists ensure the authenticity and continuing usability of records in their care. They document and protect the unique archival characteristics of records and strive to protect the records’ intellectual and physical integrity from tampering or corruption. Archivists may not willfully alter, manipulate, or destroy data or records to conceal facts or distort evidence.” Removing offensive material that was produced and distributed by the University is, de facto, an alteration of the archival record.

We strongly encourage Hollins University and President Lawrence to immediately reinstate access to these yearbooks through the campus institutional repository so that others in the Hollins community—and beyond—can access the resources that will hold the institution accountable for its past decisions and actions.


N.B. Access to the four Hollins University yearbooks in question was restored on April 10, 2019. Read more here.